(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair – WWE WrestleMania 24 (2008)

wwe wrestlemania 24

As I write this in May 2022, news has come out that Ric Flair will be wrestling one last match. It was announced that this totally-100%-official-this-time-guys retirement match will take place on July 31st, 2022 and the 73-year-old who happens to have a pacemaker will indeed be competing one final time to truly put his in-ring career behind him.

We have the story right here for you right here on TJRWrestling in case you haven’t seen it yet.

On one hand, most of us here in the wrestling fandom think that Flair wrestling at his age and with his health conditions is absolutely ludicrous. On the other hand, the biggest rumor swirling right now is that he’ll be in a six-man match with other wrestlers doing most of the work and he’ll be left to only play his biggest hits as safely as possible. Plus, he wouldn’t even be the oldest person to wrestle a “match” this year considering 76-year-old Vince McMahon had one with Pat McAfee at WrestleMania 38.

That said, this match basically s**ts all over what was once considered Flair’s big emotional sendoff. Many fans consider that match to be the best possible sendoff a wrestler can get and should’ve been the final page of Flair’s storied career. And even though the notion that Flair retired in 2008 has been completely retconned, the memories of that big match give us enough reason to revisit it now.

Thus, today we look back at Flair’s “career-threatening” match against Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania XXIV.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

On November 26th, 2007, Flair came down to the ring to make a big announcement in front of his Charlotte, NC home crowd. At first, all indications pointed to him announcing his retirement from active professional wrestling. This made complete sense; Flair was basically God to many wrestling fans and widely considered the best wrestler to ever live. He was a legend, an icon, the standard-bearer for professional wrestling. His career had spanned decades and multiple championships and accolades. But he was also way past his prime. Most of his WWE run between 2001 and 2007/8 was spent in the midcard and as a supporting character. Yet no matter what angle or storyline he was thrust into, he was still treated like a big deal because, duh, it’s RIC FLAIR!

Naturally, Flair began his promo going in one direction and then did a complete 180 when he announced that he would NEVER retire.

Flair, whose biggest love in life seemed to be wrestling itself, vowed to retire only when he died in the ring. And while that made for a great line, reality soon came to smack Flair in the face. Reality came in the form of Vince McMahon, who came out and said that Flair’s career would only continue so long as he won. The first match Flair lost, his career was over.

And just like that, a major storyline was put in place to lead up to the next WrestleMania, which was only four months away. How WWE went from simple stories like this one in which wins and losses MATTERED A HELL OF A LOT to constantly recycled rematches for which wins and losses don’t matter whatsoever is both a mystery and a tragedy.

Anyways, WWE began a “streak” of sorts that saw Flair compete in career-threatening matches. In the four months leading up to WrestleMania XXIV, Flair defeated Randy Orton, Umaga, William Regal, Mark Henry (house show), MVP, Mr. Kennedy, and McMahon himself. That was a fair mix of upper midcarders and the odd lower-carder thrown in there as well. But then Flair hit a wall: Shawn Michaels.

Shawn Michaels, the man dubbed “Mr. WrestleMania”, was also announced as the one to induct Flair into the WWE Hall of Fame. Going into this match, there was a deep conflict brewing internally among both wrestlers. Michaels had his reputation to uphold but didn’t want to become known as ‘the man that retired Flair’. Meanwhile, Flair felt that wrestling Michaels at WrestleMania would be a fitting capstone for his career and he needed to be sure that he could still go with the best of them. And to Flair, “the best of them” was Michaels.

For fans of classical American wrestling, this was THE match to see at WrestleMania XXIV. Flair – the icon of American wrestling for several decades – vs. Shawn Michaels – WWE’s most revered and respected workhorse at the time – going at it one-on-one. Both sides had big camps of devoted fans and both wanted to see a great match. And while the general consensus was that Flair was predicted to lose, questions still arose about how this match would go down.

It had been said many times that ‘X can have a great match with a broom’ and you can swap the X for either Michaels or Flair. But now that they were in the ring together one-on-one, would both of them live up to their stellar reputations, despite the ravages of time and wear-and-tear affecting their wrestling abilities?

The match

This match originally took place on March 30th, 2008 at WrestleMania XXIV. It was rated ***1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and **** by TJRWrestling’s John Canton. Despite Meltzer’s relatively low rating, I’ve heard and read far more praise for this match from many different sources. It has been hailed as the match of the night for WMXXIV and was named Match of the Year by WWE (as a Slammy award), Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and the Baltimore Sun. Let’s see how well it holds up.

The referee for this match is Charles ‘Lil Naitch’ Robinson, for what that’s worth. The wrestlers tease locking up but Flair does a ‘WOOO’ first as the bell rings. Michaels shoulder tackles Flair to the mat to a chorus of boos. Flair does a headlock into a hammerlock and then the two trade technical reversals. Flair drop toeholds Michaels and blocks an attempt at a roll into a pin. Michaels elbows out of another headlock but runs into a hiptoss. Flair does his strut and lets out another ‘WOOO’ to further mock Michaels.

They lock up again and exchange control in a corner until the words ‘Old Yeller’ are heard. A shoving match ensues and tempers start flaring. Michaels bitchslaps Flair and Flair tastes blood in his mouth. Flair hits back with nasty chops to the chest and Michaels fires back with forearms. They do a sort of yay/boo corner chop exchange until Michaels counters a corner whip. Michaels goes for a back body drop but Flair kicks him first. Flair follows with a back elbow and a classic knee drop and then whips Michaels into a corner again. Michaels elbows Flair on a charge and ascends a different turnbuckle but Flair cuts him off and throws him to the canvas. Flair climbs a turnbuckle and Michaels tries the same move on Flair but Flair stops him and lands a top-rope crossbody press for a two-count. Michaels rushes Flair but Flair counters with a knee breaker. He goes for the Figure-4 leglock but Michaels kicks him out of the ring. Michaels follows with a baseball slide dropkick and goes onto the apron. Michaels goes for a quebrada/Asai moonsault…and hits the announce table instead of Flair! Damn, Michaels hit that table hard.

Michaels returns to the ring at the count of eight and Flair starts attacking his sternum. A simple Irish whip into a corner hurts Michaels something fierce as he crumples to the mat. Flair does another corner whip followed by a back suplex for a two-count. Flair follows with some body shots and a butterfly suplex for another two-count and then lands some chops and a delayed vertical suplex. At 59 years old. Flair is a beast. Flair pins but only manages some two-counts.

Flair hits more chops and sends Michaels into the ropes but Michaels counters with a swinging neckbreaker. Flair charges at Michaels but Michaels dumps him to the floor. Then Michaels goes to the top rope. Moonsault body block to the floor. Such are the lengths to which Michaels will go to win.

Both wrestlers re-enter the ring at the count of nine and Flair hits first with some stomps. The two trade chops until Flair reverses an Irish whip but Michaels hits first with a flying forearm smash. Michaels kips up and begins his comeback with a Manhattan drop and a slam, but he staggers over due to the damage to his ribs. Michaels struggles but manages to hit his diving elbow drop and then starts tuning up the band. To what can at best be described as a “mixed reaction”. Michaels goes for Sweet Chin Music…and stops himself for a second. He has a pang of doubt and Flair takes advantage. Figure-4 leglock! Many fans jump out of their seats! Michaels rolls over to reverse the hold and Flair lets go.

Both men hobble towards each other and trade chops again. Flair lands a headlock takeover but Michaels switches to a headscissor. That leads to a bridging pin and some two-counts for Flair and flair goes for another knee crusher. But Michaels counters into a sunset flip. One, two, Flair kicks out. More corner chops. Flair reverses a corner whip and Michaels flips into the corner hard. Flair lands a chop block and tries the Figure-4 again. Michaels counters with a small package but only gets a two-count. Flair ducks an enzuigiri and locks in the Figure-4 a second time! Michaels flails around in agony but can’t go to his shoulders lest he be pinned. Michaels tries rolling over again but this time Flair has him scouted and prevent this from happening. Michaels does reach the ropes eventually but the damage has been done. Flair angrily stomps on Michaels and decides to showboat, but that moment of arrogance costs him. He turns around and walks right into Sweet Chin Music! Flair goes down! But so does Michaels! Michaels eventually covers. One, two, and – NO, Flair survives a bit longer!

Michaels tries to get up but one leg is badly damaged. He tunes up the band again and then yells at Flair to get up. He gets frustrated at Flair’s slowness and goes after him but walks into a back low blow in the process. The referee never saw it. Flair covers Michaels but only gets a two-count.

Both men get up when suddenly Michaels locks in a modified Figure-4 of his own. Flair drags himself (and Michaels) to the ropes, forcing a break. He somehow pulls off a turnbuckle pad in the process, and when the ref’s distracted with removing that object, Flair pokes Michaels’ eye. Roll-up by Flair. Michaels kicks out. More chop exchanges. Flair gets the upper hand until Michaels lands another superkick. Both men go down but Michaels drags him to a corner. He lifts himself up and the camera zooms in on the pained and conflicted emotion on his face. Michaels is reluctant to tune up the band this time. Flair gets up and has tears running down his face as he staggers towards Michaels. Michaels mouths the words “I’m sorry. I love you” and hits one last Sweet Chin Music. One, two, and three! Shawn Michaels wins the match. So ends the illustrious career of ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair (sadly not true anymore).

Winner after 20:23: Shawn Michaels

Immediately after the three-count, Michaels hugs Flair and kisses his forehead. Michaels leaves the ring quickly, hanging his head in either shame or anger at himself. After a minute or so, the music stops and the entire stadium is going ‘WOOO’ like there’s no tomorrow. Flair is emotional as he’s showered with applause. He, his family at ringside, and likely many fans around the arena and watching at home, are crying. Flair gets a standing ovation as he gradually makes his way back up the aisle.


I don’t think anyone was expecting Flair to turn back time here but he still put on an incredible performance here. Michaels was the perfect opponent for Flair in this match and it showed through their actions, selling, and emotion. This was great as far as ‘retirement’ matches and lived up to its billing as Flair’s (at the time) swan song. And yet it was hindered by one major flaw: it was so predictable.

No matter how much I tried, it was impossible to believe that Flair was going to win here. Even as he played his biggest hits and busted out some old classics (including a delayed vertical suplex from a man with very poor knees), Flair never really stood a chance. He got loud reactions all match, especially when he locked in the Figure-4. But those weren’t ‘he’s going to win with that move’ pops but ‘yay, I got to see him hit that move one last time’ pops. Even though Flair tried his best here, I never got the impression that he was going out of his way to win. It seemed like he was trying to survive or delay the inevitable, which came in the form of Sweet Chin Music from an incredibly emotional Michaels.

Once again, Michaels did an amazing job of showcasing the emotion of pro-wrestling. He kept things simple just like Flair, but there was far more to his actions that his wrestling moves. A smart man once said that the space between the notes mattered just as much as the notes themselves. In Michaels’ case, that was about selling his own personal struggle to ‘do his job’. He had a moment of self-doubt that allowed Flair to lock in another Figure-4. He hit several high-risk moves that hurt himself as much as they hurt Flair. And at the very end, he actually apologized for what he was about to do. I’ve never been a fan of Michaels’ over-the-top style and sense of exaggeration but the man is the king of selling deep emotion and conflict when it matters most.

In the end, this was not meant to be a straight-laced, purely professional contest. This was meant to be a mix of nostalgia and pure emotional drama. Flair played his biggest hits in front of a crowd that had grown accustomed to them while Michaels played the foil that came to shatter Flair’s dreams of continuing on forever. And what made this match better than expected was that Michaels didn’t treat Flair like the elderly. Michaels hit him hard and pulled out all the stops. He dished out the same punishment that Flair did resorted to extra aggression when Flair played dirty.

I just wish Flair applied even the semblance of a strategy here. He wrestled like he knew he was losing and didn’t really come close to actually beating Michaels. Michaels escaping, countering, or reversing Flair’s Figure-4 could be seen from a mile away. Even when he got that roll-up following a low-blow, it was obvious Michaels would kick out. Even though the match was emotional, most of that emotion came from the circumstances around the match and not from most of what was contained within the match.

Final Rating: ***3/4

This was definitely the most emotional match of the night. It was the best possible way for Flair to bookend his career. He surpassed pretty much all expectations for a 59-year-old man, partly thanks to his opponent’s skill and hard work. But the match was inherently flawed from the get-go. I don’t think anyone believed Flair would win and this was not the time or place for WWE to pull off one of their infamous ‘swerves’. Because of that, the match wasn’t as dramatic as it could’ve been.

Then again, this is still the best possible sendoff for someone like Ric Flair. It’s just too bad that its historic importance was negated not once, not twice, but seventeen times. Sixteen times for each of his post-WWE matches thus far and the seventeenth for the one he’ll have in July. Whether that “final” match surpasses this one in any measurable way remains to be seen.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.